Recession forces low-income families to sacrifice kids' dental care

A recent U.S. survey of low-income parents has found that financial stress caused by the economic recession is forcing many families to choose between basic necessities, such as food, transportation, and housing, and routine dental care for their children.

The national online poll, sponsored by the practice management firm Forba, was conducted May 29-30, 2009, and surveyed 210 parents of young children in U.S. households with annual incomes of $35,000 or less.

"There is an overwhelming need for dental care for economically disadvantaged children across the country," said Steven Adair, D.D.S., a faculty member of the Medical College of Georgia and chief dental officer of Forba, in a press release. "The financial hardship brought about by the recession is putting more children at risk for tooth decay and more serious, even life-threatening, health problems."

The survey found that, among respondents:

  • Nearly half (44%) said they have experienced financial difficulties related to the current economic recession, and have been forced to choose between dental care for their children and other necessities, such as food, transportation, and housing.
  • One in five (20%) take their child to the dentist less than once a year.
  • Approximately 18% said they have trouble locating a dentist who will treat their child -- a finding that reflects a national problem: In some states, fewer than one in four dentists will treat children from low-income families that receive Medicaid.

Among the respondents who indicated that the recession had forced tough financial choices between dental care and other necessities, the results indicate even greater challenges to children's dental health. The survey found that of those who indicated financial stress:

  • Almost three out of four (74%) said their child visits a dentist less than once each year.
  • A large majority (86%) said they have trouble finding a dentist to treat their children.
  • Three out of four (75%) said their children are uninsured.

"About 80% of the tooth decay found in American children is found in only 20% of children, and most of those kids come from low-income families," Dr. Adair concluded. "Care for these children must remain a priority both for parents and communities."

Copyright © 2009

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